Friday, February 27, 2015

Clean Bills, Poison Pills

The American public gets it.  The same American voters who replaced spineless Democrats with fire-breathing Republicans get it.  They are faulting the Republicans – the folks they just voted into majority power in both houses of Congress – for bringing government to its knees: with a shutdown of government, with a threatened default on our debt payments, and with the most recent threat not to fund the Dept. of Homeland Security.  And they are doing so even though they voted for those rascals.  Perhaps the American public really likes gridlock or brinksmanship government, perhaps they prefer do-nothing Congresses, perhaps they prefer confrontational government, it makes good theater, it IS exciting after all.

Putting aside the public’s involvement in government by crisis, there is a common denominator in all these cliff-hanger shutdowns and defaults, and that common thread is called “poison pills.”  A “poison pill” is an amendment to a “clean bill” before Congress that a) has nothing to do with the subject matter of the underlying piece of legislation being debated and voted upon and b) forces members to vote up a measure that they do not support (the poison pill amendment) in order to pass a measure that they do support (the clean bill).  A “clean bill” is, of course, a bill before Congress all of whose parts are on the same topic.   And poison pills are invariably attached to bills that have bipartisan support, like funding the military or the government as a whole.

There is an underlying cynicism at work here because the party that introduces the poison pill amendment knows from past experience that it will be blamed for the shutdown or the default, yet they go ahead anyway.  One has the sense that they believe that the American public will forget by the time the next election cycle rolls around.  And since it has been Republicans who have written all the poison pill amendments lately (yes, sure, the Democrats have done the same thing, just not recently), and they keep getting elected, maybe they are right, maybe we forget by the next election cycle.  Or maybe enough Americans think that there are more important issues than shutting down the government or defaulting on our debts.

In the end, in a democracy the people get what they want.  Or deserve.